Mary Hill is bringing a passion for traditional Scottish Highland Games and ancestry to Chattanooga by chartering the first Chattanooga Chapter of the New World Celts.
"One in five Tennesseans can trace their roots back to a Scottish ancestry," said Hill, who was first exposed to NWC when she lived in Florida, where one of the first chapters formed. "When they had the uprising in the 1700s in Scotland, the English exiled a lot of Scottish families. The ones who came to America settled in North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia because the hills reminded them of home."
NWC is a nonprofit organization that supports Celtic culture and history in all new-world Celtic nations, which include America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Funds raised by the organization are used to support scholarships for those who study and master everything from traditional Celtic dancing and music, like bagpipers, to athletic events such as the Highland Games.
After Hill moved to Chattanooga, she decided to create a local chapter and since January has recruited more than a dozen members. They meet the last Sunday of each month at 3:30 p.m. at The Honest Pint in downtown Chattanooga, a 21-and-over Irish-style pub.
The Chattanooga Chapter of NWC will host its first Highland Games in Maryville, Tenn., May 21-22. The event will draw NWC chapters, also known as clans, from all over the region, as well as spectators who want to enjoy the competitions and cultural food and music. The Chattanooga Chapter will have a tent with books to help visitors discover if their ancestry connects them back to a clan or region in Scotland. Hill said visitors are welcome to watch the games which last from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days.
She said the games were first started as competitions to test Scottish men's strength and determination in an era when they were not allowed to train with weapons. Instead of weapons, they competed with rocks, logs, pitchforks and other tools that could be found around a farm.
"Back in ancient times this is what the clans did in Scotland to keep from fighting each other," Hill said.
The Highland Games traditionally include challenges such as the caber toss, which requires competitors to lift and flip logs nearly the size of telephone poles, or the sheaf toss, where competitors toss straw-filled sacks over a high crossbar using a pitchfork.
"It's inexpensive, good and wholesome fun," said Hill, who trains throughout the year with other members of her chapter in a field on the property of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church on Belvoir Road. She said her children also participate in the New World Celts and enjoy the lively atmosphere.